Photography • How-To Painting with Light

Add depth and intrigue to a photo portrait by combining it with light painting. Download sample files from Setta Studio and follow along in Adobe Photoshop.

Setta, a creative studio in New York City, is all about experimentation. Adobe recently joined Setta partners Dina Chang and Tim Saccenti on a portrait photo shoot where they experimented with light painting. (While they used a commercial device called a Pixelstick, you can also light-paint with household items, such as flashlights.) Learn Setta’s technique for combining a portrait with light-painting in the steps below.

Before you start

Use the sample files from Setta if you’d like, or practice using your own photos of a model and light-painting.

Step 1

Open the image of the model in Adobe Photoshop. Drag the Pixelstick images into the open document as new layers and turn off their visibility.

Step 2

Select the model using the Magic Wand tool. To refine the selection, use the tool options Add to selection or Subtract from it.

Step 3

Now go to the Pixelstick 1 layer and turn it on. Change the Blending mode to Screen.

Click Add layer mask icon to add a mask to the Pixelstick layer. To reveal parts of the Pixelstick layer that extend beyond the model, invert the mask by selecting the Layer mask thumbnail and holding down Command + I on Mac (or Control + I on Windows).

With the layer mask selected, use the Soft Round Brush and paint with black to soften the edges or to remove the remaining bits of the Pixelstick layer. To add detail, paint with white.

Step 4

To add contrast, create an adjustment layer for Curves and clip it to the Pixelstick layer. Move the black point to darken the Pixelstick layer.

Step 5

Similarly, add an adjustment layer for Hue/Saturation and change the color of the Pixelstick layer to blue.

Step 6

Now go to the Pixelstick 2 layer. Rotate and resize it as you wish. Add a vector mask and paint with black or white to mask it out.

For a better file structure, organize different Pixelstick layers and their adjustment layers in folders.

Step 7

Make copies of your Pixelstick layers, then edit and arrange them in a compelling way. You can also use Blur to add some depth to your composition.

Make final color and tonal adjustments and enjoy the result.

To experience more of Setta's unique take on the world, watch our video profile, "Setta Studio: Unhinged in a Good Way."

Please note that the provided files are for practice purposes only.

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